Thursday 1 May 2014
Interview with Arabella Steinbacher : finally time for Mozart!
To celebrate the newest CD release of PENTATONE's Artist of the Season Arabella Steinbacher, we share with you an interview with Arabella. Why this release now? What does it mean for Arabella? Ronald Vermeulen, head of programming at the Bergen Philarmonic Orchestra, had an enchanting conversation with Arabella Steinbacher in January when she was in Norway to perform in concert.
Vermeulen: In a letter dating from 1777, Mozart describes to his father the playing of the Mannheim violinist Ignaz Fränzl. He speaks very highly of his colleague: “You know that I have no great affection for complexity. His playing is complex, but one does not realize that it is complex; one thinks one can imitate it precisely, and that is the truth." Does this description give you an idea of how Mozart himself may have played?
Steinbacher: The core message of Mozart’s statement is that you do not hear that it is difficult. This is exactly what the audience always thinks when listening to Mozart’s music. And of course, that is not true. After all, it is quite difficult to play Mozart, for the very reason that his music is not supposed to sound difficult – quite the opposite, it should always sound light and fluffy. Naturally, that is easier to say than to do in some places, as everything is so out in the open, and you can hear every note. So when I am playing Mozart, I always feel a bit as if I have been served up on a tray, as if I have to balance freely and loosely on a tightrope without making it look difficult. But yet you can still fall from the heights if you lose your footing. Mozart’s music does not allow you to hide anything.
Vermeulen: Mozart’s violin concertos, and especially his Concerto in G major, are an underlying theme in your musical life. Is that the reason you wanted to make this recording?
Steinbacher: It was finally time for Mozart. I started studying Mozart very early on, especially his G-major Concerto, which I learned to play when I was eight, and thus consider a significant link to my childhood. It was the first major concerto I played with an orchestra. Then came the D-major Concerto, and finally the A-major Concerto, both of which when I was a teenager. So these concertos have been with me since my childhood.
Personally, the Concerto in G Major is very close to my heart. Among other reasons, because this is the concerto that opened many doors for me. I originally learned the piece for the ‘Jugend Musiziert’ competitions for youngsters. My father was a pianist and he accompanied me at the competition, which resulted in a first prize. And that led to me audition for Ana Chumachenko at the age of nine. At the time, she only accepted older students. So she asked me to play the slow movement from the G-major concerto as well, as it was her belief that all children could play a quick movement, but that you could hear particularly in the slow movements whether or not a child was musical. Musicality is either there, or not; it is not really something that can be learned. And subsequently, she accepted me as a very young student. And later too, this concerto played a significant role in my life. It was always there at key moments. That’s why I am glad to finally be able to record it now.
Vermeulen: The recording with the Festival Strings Lucerne was made without a conductor. Was that a conscious choice?
Steinbacher: Of course, the Lucerne Festival Strings are accustomed to playing without a conductor. And particularly with Mozart, I prefer it this way too, as it then feels much more like chamber music. At times, the conductor can be a somewhat disruptive presence. It’s just much more exciting to communicate directly with the orchestra, and to be able to develop the phrasing together. And then it’s much better to be in direct contact with the musicians, through a glance or a movement. That is what happens too, with a small group: everyone can see me, everyone is very close to me. During the recording, we listened closely to one another, and passed the ball back and forth, as it were. We had an excellent understanding, and got along very harmoniously.
We at PENTATONE finally can say, the waiting has paid off! Arabella Steinbacher's Mozart Violin Concertos Nos 3,4&5 is out. Go get your copy now!